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Cubism Revisited

There is much fine writing and intellectual vigour available on the web. One such piece is Jonathan Jones' very fine ntroduction to the new "Cubism and Its Legacy" exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London.

The show celebrates the canvasses painted by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907 and the First World War.

"The paintings are brown and grey, with spaces of white canvas turned cream with time ... their difficulty is not of a type that recedes with familiarity. Cubism is like a maths exam at the gateway to modern art. The paintings are uniquely unyielding."
picassoJones states the problem clearly:
"Paradoxically, cubism is difficult not because it is abstract but because it is descriptive. If it were abstract, we could let go, relax, be moved. But Picasso and Braque were not abstract painters, and cubism claims not to be beautiful, but true ...

Most modern painting is stylish. It uses geometrical forms rhetorically. In revolutionary Russia, black squares and suprematist constellations of bars and pyramids became a shorthand for a new society. In Mussolini's Italy, futurist images of bodies hurtling through space became icons of militarism. Today, such modern geometries are as likely to be found on an album cover as in an art gallery. Cubism was never a style in that sense. It was an inquiry."

Jones reminds us of Arthur I. Miller's recent book which revealed just how closely Picasso mimiced the deepest science of the day.
"Picasso learned about [Henri Poincare's relativism] through the mathematician Maurice Princet, who was a regular at Montmartre cafe tables. Picasso's friend André Salmon wrote that Princet "preoccupies himself especially with painters who disdain ancient perspective. He praises them for no longer trusting the illusory optics of not long ago... " Mathematicians, philosophers and physicists at the beginning of the 20th century were recognising that many absolute truths were convenient caricatures of a universe that might be far stranger, far further from common sense than anyone thought."
braqueFrom this, the two painters developed their artistic creativity:
"Picasso's first essay in the new painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), associates the death of the picture with sexual aggression and "primitive" release. It is an overturning of civilised lies, one of which is the neat illusion of perspective. Braque put his anger into words. "The whole Renaissance tradition is antipathetic to me," he said. "The hard-and-fast rules of perspective, which it succeeded in imposing on art, were a ghastly mistake... "
Of course, we still haven't reached the point in our development where such strangeness can be accommodated repeatedly. As noted above, most modern art -- through abstract expressionism and super-realism and all the other isms -- reverted to the search for a style, leaving Cubism as an original and unique expression of a special kind of reality.

May 31, 2004 in Art, Braques, Georges, Cubism, Picasso, Pablo | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bands of Gold


The wonderful old building of the Hudson's Bay Company store in Vancouver. Click image to see more.

May 30, 2004 in Photographs, Vancouver | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Benefits For Whom?

At Reason Online Declan McCullagh declares that "zero privacy" -- the ability of systems, corporations, governments to track your every movement, purchase, Internet search, health crisis and credit report -- is really a good thing. It brings choice, he claims, and market efficiencies.

"Markets function more efficiently when it costs little to identify and deliver the right product to the right consumer at the right time. Data collection and information sharing emerged not through chance but because they bring lower prices and more choices for consumers"
While accepting the risk of Government intrusion -- and supplying a few examples -- McCullagh believes these issues can be dealt with through legislative restrictions on the police.
"Focusing on government power would keep intact the undeniable advantages of databasification -- lower prices, cheaper mortgages, and more-efficient uses of information -- while limiting possible abuses by law enforcement. The aim should be to retain the tremendous benefits of living in a database nation while preventing it from devolving into a police state."
On a simple reading, I would throw up my hands and shout "Bravo! Bravo!" However, a closer reading reveals that McCullagh completely buys into the consumer-capitalist rhetoric. From start to finish, the article assumes that the acquisition of stuff is the meaning of life. There is no discussion or thought given to the possibility that there are economic/political belief systems that don't consider "market efficiencies" to be the be-all-and-end-all of existence. In a world where the simple attainment of "stuff" is of no general value, why would we want to swap our privacy for a valueless consideration?

Besides, history has shown in every case that if there is a database and there is a police force, sooner or later the police will find persuasive enough reasons to get the courts to force access. Instead of wasting time working to keep the government police out of our information, why not work towards getting the government and corporations out of our lives altogether?

We can start in small ways. Local merchants are less likely to be collecting this information, they take cash happily, and generally have food and services that are at least as fresh and good as large chains. So, they might not have fifteen different varieties of melon, but the ones they do have are fresh and delicious. And when I buy one, the only people who know are the merchant and me. I like that.

May 30, 2004 in Anarchism, Capitalism | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Brief Notices VI

From New York Metro via Arts & Letters Daily comes this fascinating piece about an art forgery scheme of impressive chutzpah. It seems a New York dealer would buy mid-level modern masters. He would have them copied and would attach the original certificates of origin to the fakes. The fakes would then be sold to unsuspecting Japanese collectors. Soon after, the dealer would re-sell the original at a major NY auction, thus doubling his money. He got away with it for so long because of the codes of silence in the art world.

The Smithsonian's National Zoo site has an interesting article about the "Wilder Side of Sex". It seems that the basic male/female duo of genders is not necessarily the rule. One lucky slime mold, for example, gets to choose from up to 500 gender combinations. Don't let the right-wing fundamentalists get hold of this story: they'll be banning species left and right!

godzillaAt The Revealer, I found an excellent short piece looking at the meanings of Godzilla after 50 years. In the original Japanese 1954 version, Godzilla was specifically meant to be the US ravaging Japan. However, in the recut 1956 American version of the same movie (with additional narrative by Raymond Burr), the monster became America's Cold War foes and the US Army the saviours of the world.

From the Power and Interest News Report comes a comparative analysis of the Iraq War and the war in Chechnya, especially as those conflicts affect Bush and Putin.

" Both men have seized this extraordinary opportunity, Bush, to enact a wide range of radical conservative domestic policies, which in many cases have no logical connection with the war effort, and Putin to establish a centralized style of government which appears to outsiders to verge on the dictatorial."

May 30, 2004 in Brief Notices | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Gift On June 30th

Weyant of The Hill nails it on the head this time.

May 29, 2004 in Iraq | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I'm Intolerant of Intolerance

If you ever find yourself asking how fundamentalists (of any sect) can be so demanding of others, so intolerant, then Gregory Koukl has the answer for you. According to Mr. Koukl, tolerance is actually "intellectual cowardice".

I'm not going to sully myself to quote any more of Koukl's nonsense. I bring it to your attention merely as a fine example of the tortuous twisting of logic these people use to bend reality to their own ends.

May 29, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Duck Intersection


May 29, 2004 in Photographs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Setting Up the Scapegoat?

I'm pretty sure that I'd never heard of CACI International before the present Iraq War. They are a billion-dollar-a-year corporation (yes -- Billion) that feeds off the public tit. CACI is one of the myriad components of the Sovietized military-industrial complex (private for profit companies paid exclusively with taxpayer dollars) that circles imperial Washington. According to this story at FCW.Com:

"The company reported revenues of $288.4 million in the quarter that ended March 31, a 30 percent increase over the same quarter last year. London, in an interview conducted before the Iraqi prison scandal came to light, attributed the bulk of the company's success to its focus on national security and other government business. "Sometimes you count your blessings as you go along, and this time all of our business units were strong," he said in the earlier interview. "My Lord, the defense, the national security, the intelligence work, our knowledge management and network services, it was strong, strong, strong."
One of the jobs CACI undertook was the supply of interrogators at Abu Gharib prison.

It is important to understand that one of the reasons you and I have never heard of CACI and its dozens of lookalikes (even though we pay for them) are the bait-and-switch type of contracts these businesses operate under. For example, CACI's interrogators work was paid for through a Department of the Interior contract designated for information technology purchases, managed out of Fort Huachuca, Ariz. The government says that was a mistake:

"General Services Administration officials have requested additional information from company officials and ... [CACI] could be barred from future federal contracts."
So here we have the government which was a party to the scam with the contracts turning around and blaming its partners in the scam. Call me a cynic but I suspect the administration will try to pin a lot of the blame for the torture abuses on private contractors. Dumping CACI at this point allows them to say: "Look at us, we've gotten rid of the problem. We are now clean!"

Why would CACI go quietly at this point? Especially as FWC says that "[d]ebarment could be devastating for CACI." I think it is because many of these companies are simply interchangebale vehicles for draining the taxpayer's pockets. Even if CACI was officially shut out of all government business, I bet that the executives and operatives would immediately be shuffled through any number of other companies, the taxpayer still footing the bill for their "skills" and their lifestyles.

"The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a watchdog group, said that the attention to CACI is politically driven because the Iraqi prison abuse scandal is making headlines. Other contractors have far worse records and should be the focus of GSA's attention, said POGO's executive director, Danielle Brian. The group's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database ranks companies based on the amounts they have paid in fines, penalties and settlements of misconduct allegations. General Electric Corp. tops the list with $990 million, more than double the amount paid by Lockheed Martin Corp., in second place at $426 million. CACI is not in the top 10 in POGO's rankings."
Depressing, ain't it.

May 29, 2004 in Capitalism, Iraq | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Big in size
but with a squeaky little voice,
Canada is like
an effeminate linebacker
facing the south-of-49ers
across the goal line of an undefended border.
We have steroids without strength
mass without muscle.
We are
a huge collapsable shell of a country.

We survive
because the Americans cannot be bothered
to deal with the
PR flak
that would inevitably follow
the easy pushover.

Could Celine Dion save us?
Or Bryan Adams or Margaret Atwood?
Or even Farley Mowat, Michael Ondatje and
Peter Gzowzski linking arms?


Not even the whole mess
of Canadian culture
-- bilingual and multicultural --
could save us
if the Americans put their minds to it.

The manifest destiny
of globalization
ensures that it will happen
one day, some day.
And then many of us will become
marginalized Americans
like Idahoans or Puerto Ricans.
Maybe we'll qualify for grants
and affirmative action
as the third largest minority
blacks and hispanics.

Maybe we'd alter American politics
for ever
with our semi-socialists
and our semi-fascists
and our quaint idea that government can occasionally
be a good thing.
More likely, we'll become
a minor market for Wal Mart
an inconvenience for weather forecasters
and a fiscal drain
on southwestern startups
and other entrepreneurs.

If there's a futures market for snow, native land
claims and
Gallic intransigence,
Maybe they could sell us
to Norway
where benefits are better.

May 28, 2004 in Poetry | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Exposing Neo-Liberalism in Africa

Over the last two hundred years and more, Africa has been brutalised under the heel of "civilized" conquerors. More recently, the oppresive and destructive hand of the IMF and World Bank has helped ravage the continent even further. Dictators and mad militarists are two-a-penny in Africa, just like they used to be in American-business dominated South America.

None of this makes Africans stupid. They are well able to recognize the viciousness of neo-liberalism when it starts ripping at their bodies and families. Azwell Banda puts their case well in an op-ed piece in the Lusaka Post. Banda begins by noting that previous systems of control -- tribal kingships, slavery, imperialism and western colonialism -- were each sold as inevitable and God-given. Capitalism is being sold in the same way:

"Today, capitalism, neoliberal capitalism, is presented as a natural, logical, most democratic form of organising society. In so many ways, we are everywhere everyday bombarded with information, signals and hegemonic cultural practices that constantly burn into our minds the nasty myth that neoliberal capitalism is democratic, natural and some God-ordained order of things.

We are told there is no alternative to the current neoliberal ordering of society. Western liberal values, now mutated into neoliberalism, we are told, are the ones we must embrace, if we must qualify to be given the honorific label of being a democratic society ... Liberalism, or now neoliberalism, is presented as freedom. All other possible alternative ways of ordering and organising society are systematically and ruthlessly demonised ...

What is common, what thread neatly weaves an unbroken chain through feudalism, slavery, imperialism, colonialism, and neoliberalism? It is the fact that, despite the sweet sounding political philosophies and mind-numbing religious beliefs which lubricated these systems, they are all systems based on the exploitation of the majority of people by a tiny minority - kings and queens, slave owners, and capitalists ... [While condemning B]illions of human beings on Earth to live the cheap lives of labourers, as employees, as mere commodities who have to sell themselves to the highest bidder, neoliberalism preaches the hollow empty virtues of free choice and free trade. "

Banda concludes with words that are hard to disagree with:
"It is time to shake off the more than five hundred years of imbibing false forms of liberal and neoliberal consciousness that we have here in Africa."
Banda's analysis (not quoted here) is full of Marxist economic jargon. I can only hope that he and others do not fall into the trap of thinking that socialsim is anything other than slave-driving capitalism with a different face.

May 28, 2004 in Capitalism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack